Conference Proceeding: On the Front Lines: Preserving Middle Eastern Jewish History in the Age of ISIS

Amidst the horrors of the Syrian civil war, the historic Eliyahu Hanabi (“Elijah the Prophet”) Synagogue in the Jobar neighborhood of Damascus was destroyed. More recently, ISIS has demolished the purported Tomb of Jonah, which was located in one of Mosul’s oldest mosques. ISIS has also caused the Christian village of al-Qoosh in Iraqi-Kurdistan, home to the traditional Tomb of Nahum, to be evacuated several times, and has looted Dura Europas, in which the ruins of one of the world’s oldest synagogues reside. These are brusque reminders of how the synagogues, schools, and other structures that once composed Jewish life in hundreds of communities across the Middle East and North Africa are decaying or being destroyed, and the last generation with memories of these communities is passing on. There is limited time left to capture site data and record place-based stories before they are forever lost. Diarna, “Our Homes” in Judeo-Arabic, meets this urgent challenge with a synthesis of traditional scholarship, fieldwork, and multimedia technologies - satellite imagery (complete with terrain, zoomable perspectives, tiltable views and 360-degree rotation), immersive panoramas, three-dimensional architectural reconstructions, archival and contemporary photography, and place- based oral history recordings - all meant to create virtual entry points to once vibrant yet now largely vanished communities. Jason Guberman-P., Diarna’s co-founder and the executive director of the American Sephardi Federation, will provide a tour ranging from Holocaust-era Vichy Camps in Morocco to Jewish fortresses in Arabia. He will also provide a briefing on the latest, ongoing research in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Pakistan, Egypt, and Yemen.

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